Today’s service was both in person and on zoom. The reading was taken from St Paul’s letter to the Colossians which was one of the Lectionary readings for the day and is as follows.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Colossians 3:12-14 NIV
Revd Alex Pease gave the following sermon (please either listen or read below)
Looking at emails from the Itchen List over the last few days, I have been asking myself ‘How should a community discuss controversial issues?‘ ‘How can we as followers of Christ be salt and light In our villages?‘
The issue of Cowdown is a very sensitive one. There are strong opinions on both sides which have been expressed to me both on and off the Itchen List.
I am not proposing to take sides.
It seems to me there are valid arguments both for keeping Cowdown open to visitors and for our community as a place of encounter with the peace and tranquility of the river as part of our general pastoral nourishment. But also particularly at this difficult time.
There are also arguments for closing it down to keep people safe from falling trees And protecting its precious SSSI status from refuse, abuse and uncontrolled overuse by humanity.
But what I particularly want to look at today is how we go about interacting with each other when something is so sensitive.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which we have just read, shows how we, as followers of Christ should behave both to each other and to people who are not.
Paul recommends what commentators call: The five graces
We are to put these behaviours on like garments. This is who we should be and be known for being.
We should all be wearing the clothes of these actions
So firstly Compassion – not just pity but, as the COD says,‘Pity with an inclination to be helpful or merciful’
The example given on the Itchen List of a mother taking her children to Tesco’s during lockdown just to get some human contact inclines one to pity for the many caught up In town in these times.
So firstly, Compassion
Secondly, Kindness. Speaking with kindness when we meet (But also to people on the internet, on Itchen List) is a basic requirement for any follower of Christ.
We need to consider carefully before we make an intervention. If we write in fury, put the email in our drafts until the following morning for reconsideration
Would we say the same thing to the face of our neighbour? How would we feel if he/she were to say it to us?
The great principles of conversation should be:
Is it kind?
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
if we ask ourselves these questions we will avoid being unpleasant.
Let’s not make the atmosphere in this wonderful community,toxic
But I feel that kindness should go further than just what we say directly to or about any individual
It’s so easy to ‘other’ people we don’t know, being hostile to an anonymous group. Or even being indirectly critical to ‘the landlords’, for example it Sounds as if we are not being horrid to any particular person. But of course those who do own the land are bound to feel anything that is said about them as a group very deeply. Remember this is their land which they frequently invest in which they have graciously allowed us to use all these years for our recreation. It seems a lack of courtesy, at the very least, not to recognise this.
And it was difficult this summer with hordes of people treating the delicate environment of Cowdown as if it were a lido. And sometimes people were aggressive or intimidating to those who asked them politely to tone it down
So secondly kindness
We spend a lot of time thinking and speaking of our rights.
As followers of Christ we need to remember that we Christians follow a God who gave up all his rights as God to be incarnate as a mere human on earth, So that we might be saved.. Are we and our rights more important than what he wants for our lives?
So Humility….I think that applies on both sides of the argument
So thirdly Humility
I find this difficult personally. I know I can be a bit punchy at times, we are all called, I am called to gentleness in our dealings with others
Let’s try to avoid blundering in with the first thought which comes into our mind
Let’s be sensitive
So fourthly gentleness
We need to allow the process to take its time
We must allow time for this issue to be considered calmly
Because the relationship between our neighbours in this beautiful place is important
We have elected our Parish Council Representatives. They are working on this, meeting with the relevant parties. Let us let them get on with the job. And ultimately I dare say the Parish Council will publish something in IVN. Doubtless what they say will take into account all the issues..
So The five graces:
Then Paul continues Verse 13 ‘Bear with each other And forgive one another. If any of you has a grievance against someone forgive, as the Lord forgave you’
I have been reading a couple of books over the Summer. One is Dominion by Tom Holland, Of which more on Remembrance Sunday.But the other is called The Madness of Crowds By Douglas Murray
I recommend both for anyone who is a follower of Christ, even though the second has some surprising endorsements. But don’t let that put you off!
The Madness of Crowds deals with many of the challenging social developments In the UK in recent years which are very puzzling to someone of my generation and above
But I was most struck by a section in which he writes on forgiveness.
He points out that the effect of social media is that it is now almost impossible to obtain forgiveness, because the internet retains everything. Nothing is blurred with time.
Murray gives the case of an individual who was appointed to a government advisory board.
He says that within hours of this man’s appointment to this post (I think honorary) his twitter account provided a treasure trove for what Murray calls ‘offence archaeologists’. Searching for errors.
It turned out that he had said something on Twitter Which was admittedly crass (but not illegal) About 10 years beforehand. Said not done.
These comments, revived by the internet trolls, ultimately, became the main cause for his dismissal from his government appointment and within weeks he had lost every other job including a job which was his principal source of income and the passion of the second, more sensitive, phase of his life.
All of this totally overlooked his voluntary work, which was for disadvantaged children.
Murray points out that the philosopher Nietzsche foresaw this as the consequence of what he described as ‘the death of God’. Nietzsche you may remember was the philosopher behind Nazism. Neitzche saw that people could find themselves stuck in cycles of Christian theology, stuck in the residue, as it were, of Christendom After God’s death, with no way out: specifically that people would inherit the concepts of guilt sin and shame but would be without the means of redemption which Christianity also offered. Anyone who has read the book or seen the film ‘Atonement’ By Ian McEwan will know what that means.
I don’t know if you heard of the graffiti which read ‘God is dead’ Neitzche. Below which someone had written ‘Nietzsche is dead’ ….God
The real God, who is by no means dead, offers us total forgiveness and so should we to others.
After all, as followers of Christ, all our lives we have prayed every day The Lords Prayer. We have said ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. If we fail to forgive then every time we say The Lords Prayer we are condemning ourselves before the throne of heavenly grace. And in these times when we could get a cough one day, And be before that throne of grace, within 28 days, forgiveness is a matter of urgency!
Finally, over all these virtues we are to ‘put on love’.
The word love gets a bit of a bad press these days.
It sounds so feeble, so wishy- washy.
And if it does not sound weak to you, then maybe it sounds like the same thing as the five graces I have mentioned already.
Or the word ‘love’ gets confused with sexual infatuation. When people say, before they divorce, After just one or two years ‘I just don’t love her anymore’ they may well mean by love, That feeling of infatuation which we all have in the first few years of marriage when we are all over each other like wet bus tickets! As Louis de Berniere says in Captain Corelli’s mandolin that’s just ‘being in love’ ‘any fool can do that’
No, Christian love, what Paul means by ‘love’ looks like: Jesus nailed to a cross.
Christian love Is about actions not feelings.
Christian love is about self sacrifice.
So all these graces:
are held together by love.
As we use, this opportunity of Cow Down Gate to show our mettle, as followers of Christ, it’s possible that we will actually change the atmosphere in our community. We will prevent it from becoming toxic. We will be salt and light in our villages and our little bit of the creation and humanity that Father God loves, will be transformed